Ahead of Tech Show London, Techerati spoke with Dr. Laura Gilbert, the Chief Analyst at 10 Downing Street. Laura shared three pivotal moments that shaped her life and career, from being a champion savate kickboxer to being CTO of Rescon Technologies.
Laura will appear at the Tech Show London Mainstage for a fireside chat to discuss the power of digital transformation, embedding digital into organisational DNA, and fostering a culture of innovation.
Whilst living in student housing during her second year of university, Laura felt somewhat unsafe. It was 2am in the morning when Laura woke up with the idea to take up kickboxing. Initially, the endeavor did not work out.
“I was just terrible. I didn’t do sports at school. I was awful every time someone punched me in the face. I cried,” said Laura.
But Laura did not give up. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I only ever do things I’m good at like maths and music’. So, I thought I will pick one thing I’m just bad at, and I’m going to commit enough to to be good at that,” she added.
Laura’s grit and determination paid off, and by 2003, she was competing in the European championships for savate kickboxing, ranking fourth in the world and third in Europe.
The motivation gained during this time is something Laura applied to her time teaching students physics and maths at Hertford College, University of Oxford.
“When I had students, I felt that I couldn’t let them down. When it comes to landing and victory, I need something external that matters. If I don’t learn this thing, if I don’t succeed, then I will be letting down something that’s not only myself,” said Laura.
Fitting a car radio
In 2007, a life-changing experience happened to Laura. With a beat up Polo containing an old cassette radio to her name, Laura discovered how to fit a new CD player using YouTube, which was much less ubiquitous than it is today.
“I can’t tell you how much it’s changed my life. It never occurred to me that you could just go and do it,” said Laura.
A few years later in 2011, Laura’s now husband started Rescon Technologies, a digital solutions provider for health and social care partners. He spent £10,000 to develop an app, which went on to become known as Lincus. The app development company returned a product that did not work with Android phones. This is where Laura used her inspiration from changing her car radio.
“I said, if they can build an Android app, I can build an Android up. Let’s whip out YouTube and see how you do this thing,” said Laura, and as a result, she left her job in quantitative finance and began working on Rescon Technologies full time.
This hands-on mentality now follows Laura into her current position as Chief Analyst at 10 Downing Street, with the belief that having a strong understanding of the technology you work with is ‘absolutely critical’, especially when working with external suppliers.
“We need people with that expertise at higher levels, in order to make the civil service robust against poor spending decisions,” said Laura.
Being the CTO of Rescon Technologies
Back in 2011, Laura weighed up a ‘half-a-million-level’ salary with joining her partner at a startup. In the end, she chose the second option of leaping into the role of Chief Technology Officer at Rescon Technologies.
“That took me out of the generic, almost worker drone space where you have very prescribed jobs, and into something where you’re building the products and the company from the ground up,” said Laura.
There were, however, challenges. From the stress of taking our personal loans, to finding the right talent and bringing in £50,000 every month to pay a small engineering team. On top of that, Laura and her team were working with NHS data, which requires a lot of due diligence, security testing, and ‘sheer amounts of paperwork’.
“It was very hard work. One foot wrong, and we could be in pretty serious legal trouble,” added Laura.
Despite the challenges, Laura continued to persevere. Her experience at Rescon Technologies taught her how to handle not only the stress, but also sexism in the technology sector.
“As a female technologist, you encounter a lot of sexism. When you’re married to the other half of the business relationship, and the CEO in this case, I had a hugely frustrating engagement where one person introduced me as ‘Tom’s wife’. He flatly refused to address me as anything else. The implication was that is why I got the job.
“Finally shutting that down felt great,” said Laura.
Since then, Laura believes there is some way to go to tackle sexism in the industry, but it is steadily decreasing.
“I think ageism is probably our next biggest challenge because it is still seen as young person’s game still.”
At Tech Show London on 8-9 March at ExCeL London, Laura will share how she fosters a culture of innovation in government.
“I do think there is a lot to be said for the community pulling together. I have a huge vested interest, and I really want to change the way that people engage with government,” said Laura.